Hitchhiking Australia is pretty easy and is a really memorable experience. Our waiting times ranged from a couple of minutes to 24 hours!
Many Australians are some of the open, friendliest people we’ve met in the world, so if you’re hitchhiking, expect to be invited in and welcomed wherever you go. And it’s not just drivers who host you. We met people in supermarkets, on local transport, and on the street, who invited us into their homes. And these people contacted their friends in other towns, telling them to host us, so we experienced hospitality everywhere.
Everyone you get in a car with – and I mean, literally, everyone – will talk about Ivan Milat, who murdered hitchhikers almost 30 years ago. This is something you’ll have to put up with ten times a day. It’s very sad that the murders of young people have been sensationalised in films such as Wolfe Creek.
On the east coast, we were moved on from a few BP petrol stations. The staff here were some of the unfriendliest people we met in Australia!
Hitching from the east coast into the Outback (on the Flinders Highway) isn’t as daunting as it may seem at first. Between the east coast and Alice Springs there are numerous towns to hitchhike between, so it’s unlikely that you’ll get stuck. There are also lots of free rest areas where you can pitch a tent, as well as roadhouses (usually consisting of a petrol station, shop, toilets, a campsite and possibly a hotel) to buy food and camp for a fee. When at roadhouses, we chatted to drivers and asked for lifts.
In central Australia, it’s much quicker to ask for lifts from petrol stations than to stand at the side of the road. After waiting with a sign for hours at Tennant Creek, we went to the petrol station and got a ride fast.
In the northern part of the west coast – which is still the Outback – we got stuck for 24 hours. But this was because we detoured off the tourist route, and so there was only mining traffic. Wherever there are tourists (i.e. gorges and other attractions), there are likely to be cars. In the winter time, there are more tourists in the far north of the country. In the summer (when we travelled), the tourist numbers decrease a lot in the Outback.
We found that it was almost impossible to get a lift after lunchtime in the Outback. So start early!
Many rest areas have water, and all roadhouses have water. In our experience, drivers carry a million litres of water through the Outback, so if you’re short, just ask someone for some!
Wild camping here is much more straightforward than in New Zealand, where ‘freedom’ campers are being demonised in every single local newspaper you pick up. It’s in Australian culture to wild camp – the grey nomads (retired Australians travelling the country) don’t want to have to pay for sleeping every night.
We stayed in a lot of national park campsites, which are usually situated in beautiful nature, and cost just cost a couple of dollars (or nothing at all). On the east coast, these campsites are everywhere, and are often not that far from the main road.
We camped on numerous beaches and in picnic areas on both the east and the west coast. Although there were sometimes signs not to camp, and rumours of rangers patrolling, we never had any problems, with one exception: Byron Bay. This town has become bourgeois, but still has a hippy reputation, and the two don’t mix well. The campsite owners and the local council want travellers to stay in the expensive campsites. The dreadlocked travellers have other ideas. They camp in the woods at the back of the beach. We joined the makeshift village in the woods, and had to evacuate early in the morning because of a police raid.
In the Outback, free rest areas are everywhere and are great for wild camping. If you have the WikiCamps app, you’ll see where these are located.
I didn’t hitchhike any of Australia alone. Would I have hitched it alone? Yes, definitely on the east coast, and definitely on the south-west coast. I’m not sure I would hitchhike the Outback alone. There’s a few (white male) drunk drivers around, and lots of racists, so it could get really demoralising if you’re facing that alone. And sometimes the waiting times can be really long. It’s better to face that as a two or a three rather than being alone.
But public transport in Australia is terrible – almost non-existent when you get away from the east coast. So if I’d been alone I may have found myself hitchhiking through the Outback out of necessity.
Through hitchhiking we truly saw the beauty of Australia: the generosity of the people. We slept under skies of stars, on the red dirt of the Outback, and on beaches as waves lapped the shore. We met possums, kangaroos, bandicoots and kookaburras. We had no problems with snakes or spiders…snakes were only seen when hiking.
Hitching and wild camping Australia has been one of the best experiences of my life!
For more tips on hitchhiking Australia, visit the hitchhiking bible, Hitchwiki.
To read about hitchhiking Western Australia, click here and here. To read our experiences of hitchhiking central Australia, click here and here. To read my account of hitchhiking the east coast, click here.
To read my blog post Learning About Australia, click here.